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Analyzing The Anomalous: Gerald Wallace vs. Cleveland

Gerald Wallace vs. Cleveland. New Jersey lost 105-100. Wallace’s statistics: 40 minutes, 27 points (on 8-14 shooting from the field, 10-11 from the free-throw line), 12 rebounds, 1 block. 

It’s so difficult to place an accurate value on Gerald Wallace. Some nights he’s a furious ball of energy whose borderline dangerous hustle produces really great numbers. Other times, his borderline dangerous hustle doesn’t get it done. From a night to night basis, the defense is there along with the aggressive passion, but in the long term, the very way he plays the game will probably chew away at his enjoying of a long, productive career. Wallace turns 30 this July. Since 2009, his scoring and rebounding numbers have gone down on a per-36 minute rate. He’s never developed a three-point shot, and once his quickness melts to a puddle of methodic movement, there won’t be all that many ways a team can use him on the offensive end for 30-plus minutes on a consistent basis.

When New Jersey included a top-three protected first round draft pick in their deal to acquire Wallace from the Blazers, most analysts weren’t quite sure what they were thinking. Why would a team that should be focused on its rebuilding process grab an aging small forward whose best days are clearly behind him? Then there was talk that the deal was a smoke signal directed at Dwight Howard, letting him know they were serious about surrounding him with a more-than-capable third wheel should he choose to join the team next year in Brooklyn. (And hey, if Deron indeed decides to sign with Dallas, the Nets can always flip Wallace and his expiring contract for a first round draft pick and another young player should they so please.) Things looked really, really bad. But here’s the biggest reason New Jersey may be laughing last: The underlying toughness and determination that are associated with his game infects those around him; his energy is contagious, especially around the young and easily influenced who might be on a team in the middle of a renovation.

How do you put a price on that? The Nets did, and most, including myself, thought it was too much. But even if they did overpay, players who neither tire nor take plays off—and indirectly affect others by their own shear will—are unquantifiable at the end of the day.

  • In his second game as a member of the New Jersey Nets, Gerald Wallace grabbed a season high in defensive rebounds and tallied his second highest point total.
  • Watching Wallace’s activity throughout the first quarter, I forgot how great he is at leaking out and immediately attacking in transition whenever the opposing team takes a long jumper. Right now he’s paired with an elite rebounder in Kris Humphries, but if he’s matched up alongside Dwight Howard and a heady point guard like Deron Williams, the most dangerous thing about Brooklyn could be the lightning quick change from defense to offense, a la Miami.
  • The Nets went to him in the post several times and Wallace looked more than comfortable bringing his never-ending intensity to the relative calmness that is a half court isolation play. With Humphries playing power forward, Wallace was able to create mismatches from the small forward position; on several occasions he’d face his man up, and either shoot a jumper off glass, or drive to the hoop—seeking contact the whole way—and draw a foul. Earlier this season in Portland, Wallace shot just 28.6% in post-up possessions, turning the ball over almost a quarter of the time. Not last night!
  • Only 25% of Wallace’s baskets were assisted, which was the lowest of every rotation player on the team. Strange for a player who normally gets his with cuts to the basket and out in transition.
  • Antawn Jamison was the subject of Wallace’s wrath for much of the second half. Despite being slightly undersized, Wallace was able to move his feet while simultaneously out muscling Jamison on several drives to the basket. The Cavs forward finished the game with a measly 13 points on 5-20 shooting. Overall, Wallace’s defense in this game was outstanding. He’s fast enough to either show and recover on quick pick and rolls when he’s guarding power forwards, or switching onto point guards and then offering help later in the possession.
  • His team up by four with seven minutes left in the game, Wallace had a 15 second sequence that’s a perfect microcosm of who he is as a player, and what he’ll give you throughout a season. Holding the ball on the left wing, he tried firing a jumper off glass and over his defender, Antawn Jamison. He missed the shot and ended up losing his balance, falling to the court as Cleveland secured the rebound and began a race in the opposite direction. Sensing his opponent’s vulnerability, Kyrie Irving went full on into the heart of New Jersey’s defense, tossing up a left-handed layup that in hindsight was a bit wild. The ball clanged off back iron and popped straight up in the air—a fair gift for whoever wanted it most. I’ll give you one guess as to which player best positioned himself for a perfectly timed jump just as the ball began its eventual fall back to the court. Yes, Gerald Wallace is correct. As if the basketball had all of a sudden quadrupled its weight, as soon as it hit his fingers, Wallace began to crumble. Now on his back with a swarm of Cavs descending upon him to try and tie up a jump ball, Wallace passed it to a teammate and the Nets were back on offense going the other way.  It doesn’t matter if he’s on defense or has just released a shot, Gerald Wallace is hitting the court hard. It’s an unsustainable style, yet he keeps plugging away, attempting well over half of his shots this season directly at the rim. He doesn’t shy away from contact. It’s what makes him so special, and, unfortunately, will eventually lead to a quicker demise than basketball purists would like to see.
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